'Is It What You Want' is a new release from Athens Of The North. It's the sound of lo-fi soul, funk and hip hop sent down the tunnel of arcade games, dubwise effects and sometimes heartache. It's like a lo-fi version of that killer Richenel twelve that Music From Memory re-released a while back. It's the sound of two guys just making. Making, singing, having fun and experimenting. If you've ever seen one of those Glenn O'Brien 'TV Party' shows with bands and chat to camera featuring the downtown scene of 80s New York, then this is like that but by just two people.
Some of the sleeve notes are so good and give more background on what it's all about...
"I Need Your Love" dates from a lost heyday. From some time in the '80s or early '90s, when Lee Tracy (as he was known in performance) and his music partner/producer/manager Isaac Manning committed hours upon hours of their sonic and visual ideas to tape. Embracing drum machines and synthesizers – electronics that made their personal futurism palpable – they recorded exclusively at home, live in a room into a simple cassette deck. Soul, funk, electro and new wave informed their songs, yet Lee and Isaac eschewed the confinement of conventional categories and genres, preferring to let experimentation guide them.
"Anytime somebody put out a new record they had the same instruments or the same sound," explains Isaac. "So I basically wanted to find something that's really gonna stand out away from all of the rest of 'em." Their ethos meant that every idea they came up with was at least worth trying: echoed out half-rapped exhortations over frantic techno-style beats, gospel synth soul, modal electro-funk, oddball pop reinterpretations, emo AOR balladry, nods to Prince and the Fat Boys, or arrangements that might collapse mid-song into a mess of arcade game-ish blips before rallying to reach the finish line. All of it conjoined by consistent tape hiss, and most vitally, Lee's chameleonic voice, which managed to wildly shape shift and still evoke something sincere – whether toggling between falsetto and tenor exalting Jesus's return, or punctuating a melismatic romantic adlib with a succinct, "We all know how it feels to be alone."
The thing about music like this, take the track 'Girl You Always Talking' for example, is that you can try and do music like this but you really can't imitate that sound of two people just having mad fun (I presume) with a cassette recorder, a VHS player or wherever the samples are coming from, and then just seeing what comes. Some of the skits have that almost Madlib feel. It's nuts imagination music. I'd have loved to have heard what would have happened if someone had given them an engineer, a studio and a decent budget to play with.
To summarise, this is far more than a curio or time capsule. The voice is too good for that. It's a world all of it's own making and after all the private press records being dug and played these days it feels less and less out of place. Check the Bandcamp LINK and enjoy. It's a vibe and as they say themselves, 'one of their best finds for years'.